Making the most of the continuing warm sunny weather, we headed out to the village of Cerzat yesterday, for a walk which promised a volcanic crater, basalt cliffs and spectacular views over the Allier valley.
It all started well. We found our way out of the village, and across open farmland to the Pié du Roi, which is the crater of a long extinct volcano. It was a glorious day, with mellow autumn light and long shadows.
It was soon after this that we started to have “challenges” with our route finding.
Walking in France on official routes is usually pretty easy. They tend to follow clearly defined paths and tracks, rather than cutting across open ground as they often do in the UK. In addition, there is a clear system of way marks, and wherever there is a choice of paths, the correct one will be marked with a dash, and the incorrect one with a cross. These are painted on trees, fence posts, telegraph posts and walls. However, over time they fade, and trees get cut down, so it can sometimes be a bit tricky to find the right route. We were therefore heartened when we found this rather smart signpost at the start of the walk, and encountered some nice, clear way marks.
These mysteriously disappeared on the middle section of the walk, and left us floundering about in knee high grass, brambles and nettles on a sunken path. We eventually fell out of the undergrowth into a farmyard, and into the path of a slightly threatening-looking lady with a marginally less threatening-looking dog, who gave us a look of utter disdain before striding off, presumably to fetch a shotgun. There are no photographs of this section of the walk! Happily, two very charming young lads appeared at this point, and put us on the right path.
The route opened out again to some beautiful views over the valley of the River Allier, which just about made the stings, bramble scratches and scary farmer lady worthwhile.
A little further on, we got a view of the basalt cliffs which are a feature of the area, and another reminder of its volcanic past. They’re apparently caused by the cooling of flows of lava.
The overall verdict – a great walk at the beginning and end, less so in the middle, where I suspect it would be very overgrown in high summer, and extremely muddy underfoot after rain. Having checked the map again since, we think we’ve found an alternative route that would join the more scenic sections of the walk, and we’ll give that a try later in the year.